For many of us, the months of August and September are filled with bountiful harvests far too extensive for us to eat in a few weeks. And, truthfully, half the point of growing a good garden is just that: To put aside a wealth of organic, homegrown food for consumption during the leaner winter months. We grow to preserve some of our harvest.
The most romantic version of food preservation is probably canning. We picture vats of bubbling liquid, water baths, and neat rows of jars tucked somewhere in the pantry for use whenever we choose. We make tomato sauce, salsas, jams, pickles, and other yummy things.
But, there is a lot to be said for freezing. Canning is exponentially easier to do with acidic foods, such as tomatoes, fruit, and vinegar. When that isn’t the situation, freezing vegetables is often a much better option. The food comes out much closer to the fresh version of itself, and the risk of bacterial issues all but goes away.
So, how’s it done?
Which Foods to Freeze
The first big conundrum to tackle is choosing which foods to freeze, and the crux of this situation is recognizing which foods are high-acid and which are low-acid. Highly acidic foods (with pH balances between 1.0 and 4.5) can be canned with less rigmarole, so in general, they are better for this method of preservation. The acid keeps bacteria at bay, so they won’t require valuable freezer space.
On the other hand, low-acid foods are more susceptible to bacterial issues when canned, so they require a pressure cooker and some extra steps in the process. Plus, they just don’t come out quite as tasty. It’s much better to freeze them for later. Common garden vegetables with less acidity include green beans, peas, peppers, onions, corn, greens, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and so on.
The Basic Steps to Freezing
It probably goes without saying that when freezing fresh produce, it’s important to choose the quality stuff. If the produce goes in with bruises or trouble, it’s not going to come out magically mended. Bruised and battered stuff is best to use for cooked items that can then be canned or frozen as something altogether different, like soup, lasagna, chili or whatever.
Another vital step to get the most out of freezing fresh vegetables is blanching them before you do. This involves putting them in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then quickly submerging them in ice water to stop the cooking process. The reason for this is that it helps the vegetables maintain their color and nutrients by stopping enzymes that would lead them to spoil.
Freezing can be done well, or it can be done in blocks. For veggies that can be used a handful at a time, it’s best to pat them dry and freeze them spread out on cookie sheets first. This prevents them from freezing together in a solid block. Once they’ve frozen individually, they can be put in sealable plastic bags or, better yet, reusable storage containers.
Beyond Vegetables Alone
Of course, it’s also possible to make frozen dinner type items to store as well, and this might be particularly appealing to those with large chest freezers at their disposal. Rather than freezing the vegetables as they are, soups work great as frozen food, as do a myriad of lasagnas, breads (think zucchini bread), veggie patties/sausages/”meatballs”, less acidic sauces (think pesto), and so on.
In some cases, such as soups and sauces, it’s nice to portion things out so that it doesn’t require reheating the whole pot for one meal. This, of course, helps to stretch the food as we might not want to eat it all at once, and that also prevents food waste. The same can be said for freezing chopped fresh greens or vegetable stock. Freezing them in ice cube trays doles out agreeably-sized portions that can be added a little at a time, just what we need.
How Long Will It Last
Done well, frozen vegetables can last a long time, roughly between eight and ten months. Frozen meals and cooked dishes should make it three months or more, with freezer burn as the best indicator of when they’ve been there too long. The point here, though, is that we should be careful in choosing which things we can and which we freeze. A little practical knowledge can make food preservation a lot easier and possibly more successful.
Lead Image Source: Pixabay